Columbus Day: a Tale of Horror
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue, it’s what we all were taught in school. That part is true, but he didn’t discover America, never set foot here. He probably didn’t even discover the American continent either, as the Vikings beat him by at least half a millennium, and maybe the Welsh, Chinese, and possibly even the Egyptians. It’s also been argued that if there are people already living somewhere, you don’t get to say you discovered it. His crew didn’t threaten mutiny because they thought they’d fall off the edge of the Earth. People by then, especially mariners, would be able to see just the top of a distant ship, indicating a curvature of some sort. The one thing we can be sure of about Columbus is that he was the first to bring genocide to the Americas. Today, many Native Americans refer to 1492 as the Apocalypse, and for good reason.
He landed on the island of Hispaniola, which today is divided by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It was the home of the Taino culture, also known as the Quisqueya or Bohio. The island is huge, nearly the size of Ireland, and the population at that time is estimated to have been between 1.5 and 3 million. They appeared to be an idyllic society — plenty of food and resources, so no need for wars, and a tropical climate to boot. They greeted their visitors warmly, and welcomed them. They also had gold, which made the Spaniards crazy. Even the Holy Church was not, and is not today, immune from its enchantment. If you doubt that, visit the Vatican some time. Columbus wrote a letter to King Ferdinand in 1493: “It is possible with the name of the Holy Trinity [they were all good Catholics], to sell all the slaves which it is possible to sell. Here there are so many of these slaves, and also Brazilwood, that although they are living things they are as good as gold.” They would need more ships and more men.
On the second visit, of the mass of Tainos who came out to meet them, 2000 were immediately captured, to be sent back to Spain as honored guests (slaves). Crewman Miguel Cueno wrote in his journal: “When our caravels were to leave for Spain, we gathered 1600 male and female persons of these Indians, and these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495. For those [Indians] who remained, we let it be known in the vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them could do so to the amount desired, which was done.” Cuneo also took a teenage Carib girl as his personal slave, but when he tried to have sex with her, she “resisted with all her strength.” In his own words, he “thrashed her mercilessly and raped her.”
There was plenty of gold and Brazilwood to be harvested, and an inexhaustible labor pool. But the Tainos turned out not to be very good workers, so Columbus applied a little discipline. For even a minor offense, an Indian would have his nose or ear cut off as a message to the others to get with the program. Other unfortunate Indians were attacked by dogs, or shot for sheer pleasure. Meanwhile, the sex slave trade was prospering. Columbus wrote in 1500: “A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm . . . and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from 9-10 (years old) are now in demand.” In his dispatches, Columbus referred to the Tainos as cannibals, a story he made up to justify the slaughters.
Pedro deCordoba wrote to King Ferdinand in 1517: “As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen suicide. Over 700 have committed mass suicide. The women, exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirth . . . Many, when pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after delivery have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them such oppressive slavery.” In a census taken by Columbus’ brother, Bartolomeo, by 1496 the population of Tainos was about a million. In just twenty years, by 1516, that number was down to 13,000. By 1542 there were less than 200, and by 1555 every single Taino was dead. Well, I think we’ve just discovered the real cannibals.
Dr. Jack Forbes is Professor of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis. In his book Columbus and Other Cannibals, he uses the Native American term wetiko, a variant of the Cree wihtikow, ‘greedy person or cannibal,’ to describe “the collection of beliefs that produce behavior like this . . . how we ‘eat’ (consume) other humans by destroying their lands, resources, and consuming their life force, by enslaving them either physically or economically.” We saw the same behavior here in America in the 1800s as we expanded westward, and we’ve seen it wherever Europeans colonized the New World. Where does this collection of beliefs come from? The common denominator is the kind of religious exceptionalism we can see in Joshua 6. The Lord had given Jericho into Joshua’s hand. After the walls fell, the children of Israel rushed in and killed “all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.” Then the Lord gave Joshua the city of Ai in Chapter 8, and again all the inhabitants were killed. In the same way the Lord, by way of the Holy Church, had also given Hispaniola into the hands of Columbus. Then He gave America into the hands of the colonists. Boy, the Lord must really like white people.
No other force in human history has been responsible for more death and mayhem than religion, so it’s easy to lay the blame there, and I have done so as well. Lately, though, I’m beginning to think humans shouldn’t get a pass. As I see it, there are three possibilities here. One, humans invented religion, so it’s unfair to blame religion for our behavior. Two, God is some kind of psychopath, and I’m not ready to go there. I’m inclined to think God is beyond gender, but if not, He’d be a lot more like Gandalf. The only other alternative is that the Creator has been the victim of the most egregious libel and slander, and knowing the human race, I find this more believable. It’s we who are the cannibals. We are the psychopaths.
So, what’s on sale today? The restless spirits of an obliterated people, 30% off, same as cash financing . . . and no interest.